An August Day at Akumal Bay
Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 23, 2008
August means a couple of things to us down here in Caribbean Mexico. First of all, it is hot, hot, HOT. Even in the evening it stays pretty oppressive. Usually we have a few thunderstorms to cool things off at least temporarily, however the skies have been clear for weeks. The good news has been we’ve seen no tropical storms or hurricanes yet, although we are keeping our eyes open for the weeks ahead.
The other seasonal guarantee is that August and September are part of low season for us at the Luna Blue. That means we can actually take some time and enjoy our beautiful coastline. Today was one of those “time off” days. We used it to get in a little water time by snorkeling in Akumal Bay.
Akumal is on the coast about a 20 minute drive south of Playa Del Carmen. Akumal sits at the entrance of Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay and Yal-ku Lagoon. The word “Akumal” means “The Place of the Turtle” in Maya, and Akumal Bay is known as a sea turtle nesting and feeding area. It has an interesting “floor” that combines sandy flat spots bordering large stretches of seas grass with active coral growth areas. As a result the sea life which can be seen there can be pretty amazing.
As usual we picked a spot on the beach in front of the Lol-Ha restaurant, set down our towels and sandals, and waded into the water. A boat lane marked by buoys divides the bay. We usually swim out to the right of the boat lane which takes us over some areas of sea grass, a favorite food of the sea turtle. As we snorkeled that direction we quickly ran into a large sea turtle slowly traveling along the sea floor, munching sea grass. He was three to four feet long and didn’t seem to mind our company as we floated above him. Occasionally he would rise up the 15 or 20 feet to the water’s surface to gulp some air before returning to his lunch. Sadly we had not brought our camera. The photos in this blog entry are from Wikipedia. Click on the photos to be taken to the Wikipedia page for more information on the amazing creatures pictured.
At one point a couple of tourists swam up to join the party. Unfortunately they began to chase the turtle, diving down to grab its shell. This bothered us, since we know the sea turtle is an endangered species. When they surfaced we yelled over to them, “Hey, don’t touch the turtle!” They looked quizzically at us. Then Cheri said, “No tocar!” They understood that, and swam off to do damage elsewhere.
We moved along and quickly ran into an even larger turtle that had two large feeder fish clinging to his shell. These fish feed by cleaning the shell of the turtle. Again we hung around for a while watching the big guy having lunch.
We then headed for the other side of the bay to the coral area. As we swam we came upon the largest school of fish we had ever seen: It looked to be 15,000 to 20,000 identical fish packed together creating a virtual wall. The school stretched like a gigantic green snake, circling around and over itself as it disappeared into the distance.
Suddenly we saw what was causing the fish to pack together to appear like one large creature. We found ourselves floating only a few feet from a five plus foot long barracuda. We know from experience that it is rare that a barracuda will attack a swimmer. They prefer smaller fish that can be easily swallowed. Still, the jutting jaw, the hooded eyes, the sharp dagger-like teeth sticking out of the mouth, and the size of the thing made us catch our breath. We watched for awhile, the school parting around its enemy, as the predator floated and waited patiently for one to swim out of the protection of the group. We never saw it happen.
We crossed over into a flat sandy area and were rewarded with the sight of a number of rays. We saw several smaller eagle rays swimming gracefully a few inches above the sea floor, the motion of their beautiful “wings” occasionally causing a puff of sand to rise up beneath them. Then as we began to head back to shore we spotted something we hadn’t seen before, a spotted eagle ray also commonly know as a leopard ray. It was good sized, with a wing span of three feet or more and with a tail about eight feet long! We finished off by swimming among several parrotfish feeding on the coral.
Later, when we were back on shore we rewarded our hard work with milkshakes and onion rings while sitting on the deck at Lol-Ha. We gazed out on the bay and marveled at a sight that never grows old. The water of the Caribbean Sea was wonderfully calm and a gorgeous blue green in color. This, we reminded ourselves was one of the reasons we lived down here.